When Lorette Woodward Veney’s mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2006, Veney’s role in the family changed from being a doting daughter to acting as her “mom’s mom.”
November is National Family Caregivers Month. Today, the Valley Program for Aging Services and the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services at James Madison University presents “The Confident Caregiver: A Family Caregiver Conference” to recognize the work of family providers.
Veney, an author and motivational speaker, travels the country to share her story and inspire people to remain resilient and patient when taking care of a loved one. She is combining two presentations, “The Best of Being my Mom’s Mom” and “Lifting the Spirit of the Caregiver,” as the conference’s keynote speaker during lunch.
Caregiving is an emotionally and financially demanding task that nearly 43.5 million adults in the United States provide unpaid, as reported in a 2015 study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Alliance for Caregiving. According to The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, one in five Virginians is a caregiver.
As the number of geriatric people increases, VPAS recognized the demand for a conference to meet the needs of those who care for the aging population. Beth Bland, director of development at VPAS, said the conference is a means to share support and helpful tips to caregivers in the area.
“We know that most of caregiving is unpaid and provided by a family member or loved one, so we wanted to find a way to bring people in the community so they could get practical information and their spirit renewed and refreshed,” Bland said.
Presenters will share information related to managing health, safety and finances, as well as how to prevent and cope with caregiver burnout.
Veney said her mother often does not recognize her, but she enjoys the time spent together regardless and a positive attitude makes the bad days bearable.
“You have to focus on the little things that make you smile. I love being with her. I love who she is every day,” Veney said. “One of the things I did wrong was trying to fill the time with my mom with activities, but you can just sit there and be in that moment.”
Dr. Richard Lindsay, former president of the American Geriatric Society, is the opening keynote speaker today. As the professor emeritus of internal medicine and family medicine at the University of Virginia and founder of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at U.Va., Lindsay has dedicated his life to serving the geriatric community.
Lindsay said caregivers provide an irreplaceable pillar of support to not just those in need but to the health care system at large.
“When you get right down to it, the backbone of long-term care system is family caregivers,” Lindsay said. “Without this group of people, there would be no long-term care. Their role is vitally important. We have to get that role elevated.”
Lindsay’s presentation will be in part discussing how to care for those with chronic illnesses as well as the resources available so caregivers are also able to care for themselves.
Today’s free conference is from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Ballroom A of the JMU Festival Conference and Student Center. Registration has ended, but VPAS offers senior transportation, Medicare counseling and in-home assessments among other benefits year-round for individuals over 60 from Rockingham County to Rockbridge County.